Tube City Online

August 29, 2010

Solar Panel Plant Eying City Site


The city is close to landing the East Coast manufacturing plant for a company that designs easy-to-install solar panels for homes and small businesses.

McKeesport is in the running because the state has the right incentives and is "focused on jobs," says Bob Bennett, a co-founder of United States Green Energy Corp.

The plant would reportedly be located at the RIDC Industrial Park on the former U.S. Steel National Works site, but Bennett tells the Almanac he can't yet confirm any details. "We're still very early in the process," he says, "so it's a little difficult to talk about anything."

According to a legislative aide to state Reps. Marc Gergely and Bill Kortz, a $750,000 grant has been approved to enable USGEC to purchase equipment for a facility in McKeesport.

"Without this step, it would not have happened," says Bennett, a former Westinghouse Electric Corp. executive. McKeesport "has good incentives, there's a very good manufacturing workforce available, and there are a lot of suppliers we work with who are in the area."

. . .

The company is currently based in Fredericksburg, Va., but that facility has been described as temporary. Bennett says the company is very interested in locating its first permanent factory in Western Pennsylvania.

Contrary to public perception, Pennsylvania's business climate is very friendly, he says --- especially for renewable energy companies that make items such as wind turbines, batteries and solar cells.

"Of the states that I've dealt with recently, Pennsylvania is head and shoulders above any of them," Bennett says. "Pennsylvania has a set of incentives, people know what they're for and where they are, and they're focused on jobs."

. . .

As for McKeesport, Bennett is familiar with the Mon Valley --- he worked at Westinghouse's Monroeville Energy Center and lived in Mt. Lebanon --- and says it has very influential and passionate advocates.

"We were encouraged to look at Western Pennsylvania by a number of people on the state level," he says. "I'm very happy with the state. When you live there, you only hear about the bad things. But there are a lot of things that Pennsylvania has that, for instance, Virginia or North Carolina don't have. They're not as focused or aggressive."

Bennett told the Almanac it's too soon to say where the facility might be located or how many people it might employ.

. . .

According to published reports, the company foresees a $150 million per year market for its product --- easy-to-install, mass-produced solar panels that take the place of conventional building components --- and hopes to employ up to 250 people in the next 18 months.

The grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority is designed to help USGEC purchase a laminating machine to manufacture shingles and siding, according to the statement from Gergely and Kortz.

The announcement from Kortz and Gergely says the company will likely be taking over the former McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse at the east end of the RIDC Industrial Park, located on the site of the former U.S. Steel National Works.

. . .

"This new machine will be part of the company's planned production facility in a restored roundhouse at a former steel mill," Gergely says. "This will breathe new life into a former industrial site and support the development of renewal energy."

The city has been aggressively marketing the RIDC Industrial Park to potential tenants since Dish Network closed a call center in March.

Several high-tech firms are already located in the RIDC park, including Maglev Inc. and Consolidated Power Supply.

Kortz called the grant a "further demonstration of the state's commitment to investing in green energy technology that will help this emerging industry to create jobs in Pennsylvania and protect our environment."

. . .

Earlier this month, the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch reported United States Green Energy is making solar panels --- banks of photovoltaic cells that turn the sun's energy into electricity --- that are designed to directly replace conventional roofing and siding.

One such roof has already been installed and four more are planned.

Bennett told the newspaper that existing solar panels are hard to install and must be custom fit at great expense.

USGEC's panels are designed as off-the-shelf components and manufactured to standard dimensions. A solar roof made of USGEC's components can pay for itself in terms of power savings within five years, the newspaper reported.

. . .

Bennett and his partners have each invested $1.5 million of their own money into the company, according to the Times-Dispatch, and have not taken any loans or used any venture capital.

"I've been in the energy business forever," Bennett told the Almanac. "My partners and I are completely dedicated to this. There are still a lot of details to work out, but this is the critical first step."

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 5:26 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: News | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 26, 2010

Help Wanted


With the school year getting underway, Tube City Community Media Inc. seeks a writer to cover McKeesport area schools.

The reporter will be responsible for at minimum attending McKeesport Area School Board meetings and filing a story the next day. Additional coverage of Propel McKeesport schools and Serra Catholic High School will also be encouraged.

Tube City will pay $25 per assigned story upon publication, or negotiate other compensation upon request.

Previous experience is useful but not required --- this is an ideal job for a high school or college student or budding freelance writer seeking clips. Accuracy, clarity and reliability will be prized more than writing skill.

Persons seeking or holding political office should not apply.

Writing samples and personal or professional references will be needed. For details, email j togyer at g mail dot com.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Announcements | | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 24, 2010

Briefly Noted: MAHS, Other Schools Explore Health Care Careers


A new initiative will help freshmen at McKeesport Area High School and five other public high schools learn about career opportunities in health care.

The city-based Consortium for Public Education announced this week that it will help launch Pathways to Health Careers at McKeesport Area High School, as well as at Munhall's Steel Valley High School and Pittsburgh's Carrick High School.

Other non-profit groups are launching the program at Pittsburgh's Langley, Peabody and Taylor Allderdice high schools.

Pathways to Health Careers will connect schools with health care providers and other resources to create programs that explain to ninth-graders the necessary educational steps to become a doctor, nurse, technician or other health care professional. The programs will give students information about job availability and salaries, and help them choose their educational goals.

The programs are designed to help students achieve the career education mileposts outlined in the state Department of Education's Career and Work Standards, a Consortium spokeswoman says.

Health care is now the Pittsburgh area's largest single employment sector, and UPMC McKeesport hospital is the city's largest employer. UPMC and the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania are working with the Consortium to develop the program and provide resources to students, a spokeswoman says.

Linda Croushore, executive director of the Consortium, says the partnership "just makes sense" for both her organization and the Mon Valley.

"Every career exploration opportunity that we bring into our region's public schools also serves the region's imperatives for workforce development," she says.

Gina Barrett of the Consortium and faculty at each of the high schools will help students design and lead the programs at each location, according to the plan submitted to the JHF and United Way.

Besides helping students explore health and science careers, the plan is also designed to let students develop leadership and teamwork skills, Barrett says. It also brings out ideas that faculty might not have explored, she says.

"We've had a lot of success with this model because students often can engage their peers in ways that might not always occur to adults," she says.

. . .

Construction Will Close Route 30: New steel beams will be put in place at the bridge being built across Route 30 in North Versailles Township.

The work will force the highway to close on Friday night and remain closed through early Monday morning, says Jim Struzzi, district spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Under a $4.5 million contract, Gulisek Construction Co. of Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, is replacing the bridge that carries Greensburg Pike over Route 30 just west of East McKeesport. Work is expected to wrap up this fall.

The posted detour takes motorists around the construction zone using Greensburg Pike and Warren Drive, which serves the North Versailles Wal-Mart and Great Valley Shopping Center.

Next week, traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction on Route 30 near Greensburg Pike for additional construction work. The restrictions will be in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly, Struzzi says.

Route 30 in North Versailles serves about 22,000 cars on an average day, according to PennDOT traffic volume maps.

. . .

New Homebuyer Workshop Slated Sept. 18: Mon Valley Initiative will host a free pre-purchase housing workshop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18. All participants who successfully complete the workshop, which meets U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development criteria, will receive a certificate that's required to obtain certain community development mortgage loans from local lenders, says Mike Mauer, MVI housing counselor.

The workshop will be held at MVI's office, 305 East 8th Ave., Homestead. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided, and parking will be free.

To register or get more information, call Mike Mauer (412) 464-4000 or visit MVI's website.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by Staff Report
Filed Under: News | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 23, 2010

What About Bob?


Tube City Almanac has repeatedly pointed out that Bob Nutting is running his baseball team just like he runs his newspapers --- on the cheap. And although Nutting's newspapers stink, they make gobs of money.

So this weekend's revelation that the Pirates are raking in profits even while they're stinking up the National League should not have come as much of a surprise.

Here's "the best of" (a relative term, to be sure) Tube City Almanac regarding the king of crappy baseball and even crappier newspapers, Bob "Gives Pirates Fans" Nutting:

. . .

(from July 31, 2009)

Nutting Ventured, Nothing Gained

Bob Nutting, PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates, explosion

Possible reasons why Pirates owner Bob Nutting keeps sabotaging his own club:
  • Worried that successful season will push him into higher tax bracket

  • Doesn't want Washington Nationals to feel lonely at bottom of standings

  • Has instilled same "quality control" in baseball team as in his newspapers

  • Thinks it's like golf and has been trying for low scores

  • Strategy to keep Pirates unique? Leave "winning" to Steelers and Penguins

  • His giant piles of money make it hard to see good talent

  • At heart, he's more of a Phillies fan

  • Needs smaller crowds for planned move to Helen Richey Field

  • Hoping for federal government bailout

  • Just three more lousy seasons makes it an even 20!

. . .

(from June 11, 2007)

Nutting From Nutting

If Nutting is running the Pirates to make them as cheap as possible, it should come as no surprise. "Cheapness" has been a virtue of his family's newspaper chain for decades.

Ogden Newspapers dominates West Virginia (and) southern Ohio, and it has properties in other parts of the country as well, including several in central Pennsylvania, like the Altoona Mirror.

I've seen probably 10 or 12 different Ogden newspapers on a semi-regular basis over the years ... (Many) Ogden papers look slapped-together; instead of local news coverage, they're stuffed with cheaper syndicated features.

Chris Stirewalt, a commentator for WBOY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Clarksburg, says the Ogden chain's key to success has been "lean newsrooms and aggressive ad sales" which has left many West Virginia towns with a newspaper that "reads like a Rotary Club bulletin and is staffed by those too busy to think" ...

There are some very talented, dedicated people working at Ogden Newspapers --- I've known some of them --- who turn out quality journalism. But unless they're very dedicated to the communities they cover, few people can afford to make a living on the penurious salaries Ogden pays reporters.

There's been little written in the big journalism "watchdog" magazines about Ogden's operating style, possibly because it's a privately held company that operates mainly in very small towns, out of the view of the news media "experts" in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago ...

(The) Nutting family's supposed stinginess with the Pirates is just part of a pattern that hundreds of writers and editors in Ohio and West Virginia have seen before. And while I'd like to see the Pirates winning, I suspect people in places like Wheeling would be more interested in seeing better quality news coverage.

. . .

(from June 20, 2007)

Avast, Ye Scurvy Dogs!

(A) young salesman came to my door over the weekend. He had (an) overly enthusiastic, cheese-eating grin. "I'm not trying to change your religion," he said, "I just want to talk to you for a few minutes."

"I'm listening," I said through the screen door.

"I'm conducting a survey on behalf of the Pittsburgh Pirates," he said. "As a reward for answering a few questions, we'd like to give you a voucher good towards your purchase of tickets to an upcoming Pirates home game."

"I'm not interested," I said.

"That's cool," he said, "but can I write down why not?"

"Yes," I said. "Write down that I'm tired of Mr. Nutting screwing over the fans, and that I'm not spending a dime on that team until they draft some decent players."

He started to laugh ... and wrote it down. I suspect I wasn't the only one who told him that. I wonder if he's still working for the Pirates, or whatever marketing company sent him out on that suicide mission.

. . .

(from June 20, 2008)

Random Friday

Frankly, you should root for your home team when they're trying their best, but failing. But the Pirates aren't trying. Or, more specifically, the Pirates' ownership isn't trying.

You may wonder how the Nutting family sleeps at night. I say, "On a big pile of money."

They're pocketing money from the fans and the taxpayers, paying lip service to the idea of being competitive, and laughing all the way back to West Virginia, where they invest the profits in a chain of mediocre newspapers and contribute money to things like the "Oliver North for U.S. Senate Committee" ...

The "P" on the caps doesn't stand for "Pittsburgh." It stands for "Painful," "Pitiful," or maybe just "Pathetic."

Give your money to the Nuttings. As for me, I'll drive to Altoona to see a baseball game, even with gas at four bucks a gallon.

Yeah, I'd almost rather see the sheiks of Saudi Arabia profit than the owners of the Pirates.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 10:27 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Commentary/Editorial | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 19, 2010

International Village Webcast 3 to 10 p.m. today

(Shameless Horn-Tooting)

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:56 pm by T.C. Tiger
Filed Under: Shameless Horn-Tooting | two comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 19, 2010

Carrie Furnace Tours Slated; County Seeking Developers


John Barna photo (c) 2010

Ron Gault remembers when U.S. Steel's Carrie Furnace plant was a lot cleaner and had a lot less graffiti. He also remembers when molten iron flowed through the sluices of its casting floors like lava "from a controlled volcano."

As an 18-year-old furnace helper in 1974, Gault helped work the manually operated levers that diverted the 2,600-degree liquid metal into railroad cars for transportation to U.S. Steel's Homestead Works, across the river.

The technology was ancient even then, he says: "It was 100 years old when I got here."

These days, when Gault, who lives in Baldwin, visits the darkened and rusty blast furnaces along the Monongahela River in Swissvale, he feels "like an archeologist finding a dinosaur."

"This needs to be saved and preserved," Gault says.

. . .

After 20 years of effort, that's finally about to happen. Later this month, Homestead's Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area will begin offering a limited schedule of tours of the blast furnaces --- the oldest standing furnaces in North America.

And as those tours get underway, Allegheny County officials will be seeking proposals from developers to construct a mixed-use residential, commercial and industrial development on 168 acres around Carrie Furnace.

The property also would be linked to the Great Allegheny Passage hiking-biking trail to create a new regional tourist attraction.

"We're making sure that we create jobs here," says Dan Onorato, Allegheny County Executive. "We also want to redevelop this prime riverfront property and preserve a piece of the steel industry that made this area great."

. . .

The parcel, which spans Rankin and Swissvale boroughs and touches Braddock, is the last, large brownfield parcel in the Mon Valley available for development, Onorato says.

Proposals will be accepted later this year. County officials envision a mixed-use development that would include houses and boat docks along the river's edge, along with retail stores and light industrial space.

An old railroad bridge that once connected the site to the Homestead Works would be converted for cars, bikes and pedestrians, similar to the "Hot Metal Bridge" that links Second Avenue in Hazelwood with Pittsburgh's South Side.

There is already "a lot of interest" from developers, according to Dennis Davin, the county's redevelopment director.

. . .

Most of the environmental problems left behind have been cleaned up by the county, which has also installed new sewer and water mains, Onorato says.

"I know you don't see anything 'coming out of the ground' yet, but there was a lot that needed to be done first," he says.

Because access to the site is blocked by railroad tracks, county officials are also studying the possibility of an exit ramp into the site directly from the Rankin Bridge, Onorato says.

"We are investing in infrastructure in the Mon Valley," says Onorato, who is running for governor. "Big money. And I will defend the use of federal money to anyone for the redevelopment of these old industrial sites that helped us win two world wars."

. . .

John Barna photo (c) 2010As the county pushes its redevelopment plan, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Forest Hills Democrat, is pushing legislation in Congress to get the site taken over by the National Park Service.

For Doyle, the fight has a special meeting. Doyle grew up in Swissvale, and two generations of his family worked at the Carrie Furnace.

"Steelmaking runs in the Doyle family, but when I talk to my four kids about it, they kind of scratch their heads," Doyle says. Pittsburghers and Americans need to rediscover their industrial past, he says.

They also need to remember that Mon Valley steelworkers led the fight "for decent wages and working conditions," Doyle says. "I would not have had the chance to go to college if it hadn't been for the labor movement. We need to make sure people remember that part of our history, too."

. . .

Doyle, Onorato and others credit Augie Carlino of Rivers of Steel with leading the effort to keep the blast furnaces from demolition. Blast furnaces in McKeesport, Duquesne and elsewhere were sold or scrapped, and the former owner of the Carrie Furnaces, Park Corporation, wanted to demolish them as well.

"I never thought I'd be working on this for 20 years," says Carlino, who serves as president and chief executive officer of the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, which manages the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

"Whatever else happens here, these blast furnaces will stand as a monumental testament to the men and women who worked throughout the steel industry in this valley," Carlino says.

The first blast furnace on the site opened in 1884. Eventually there were seven furnaces, belching smoke and flame 24 hours a day and feeding iron other mills, which turned it into steel. The Carrie Furnace plant closed in 1982 and only two furnaces --- built in 1906 and 1907 --- remain. They were designated National Historic Landmarks in 2006.

. . .

Left open to the elements and vandals for more than 20 years, the furnaces are cluttered with collapsed pipes and beams, and the roofs and walkways sag in places. Carlino estimates that it will cost more than $5 million to stabilize the remaining blast furnaces and prevent them from further deterioration. Some of the money has already been raised, he says.

It will be difficult to get the financially strapped National Park Service to take over preservation of Carrie Furnace, Doyle admits, but says that all of America owes a debt of gratitude to the Mon Valley for helping build the nation.

"We have not given up on this area, and we have to invest in these communities," he says. Doyle has introduced legislation to get Carrie Furnace accepted by the Park Service and expects the effort to take several years.

. . .

For Gault, who left Carrie Furnaces to join the Air Force and now works at Duquesne University, Doyle's enthusiasm for the project is a good sign.

"I was surprised to hear that Congressman Doyle's bloodlines run through this place," Gault says. "That's what it's going to take --- someone with passion."

(Additional photos at the "More" link)


Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 08:00 am by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: News | five comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 17, 2010

We're On the Air!

(Shameless Horn-Tooting)

It's a beautiful day for International Village, and we're on the air --- worldwide via the Internet, and in Renziehausen Park on 88.9 FM and 1640 AM. (The AM range isn't worth much, unfortunately, but the FM covers a lot of the park.)

We're just to the right of the main stage. Stop by, say high, and make sure to pick up a free map (while supplies last) of Our Fair City (and vicinity).

The map is compliments of the Global and Public Policy Program at Chatham University.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 2:35 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Shameless Horn-Tooting | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 16, 2010

Your Guide to International Village (Updated)

(General Nonsense)

(Editor's note: As a public service to the thousands of people who will be attending the 51st International Village this week, as well as the tens of dozens who read Tube City Almanac, we are reprinting our annual handy guide to attending the area's premier food and music festival. As always, it's been updated slightly.

Feel free to clip and save it, or if you can't clip things from your monitor, just carry your computer around with you.

You may also enjoy this 1972 look at the Village, reprinted from
Ford Times.)

. . .

Every year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians descend on Our Fair City's Renziehausen Park for the ethnic food, dancing, food, music and food festival known as "International Village." Though other communities have imitated it (and I'm looking at you, Picksberg), they have not been able to duplicate the experience.

For months ahead of time, churches, ethnic clubs and other associations prepare foods and crafts for sale, while performance groups prepare traditional costumes and practice folk songs and dances. And there's great ethnic food.

Did I mention food? I did? Good.

Well, that time is almost here again! Next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the balalaikas, tamburas and bass guitars will be plunking, the dancers will be twirling, and thousands of Westinghouse electric roasters will have emerged from pantries and basements and been pressed into service to keep pierogies, pirohis, perogis, pirozhkis and pirogies warm.

Some people will even be making piroghies.

In the past, International Village was mostly made up of those "nations" that stretched from, oh, say, Dublin to Minsk, and south to Palermo. But over the years, as different ethnic groups have settled in Western Pennsylvania, more and more traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are being represented at the "Village." For those of us who enjoy eating sweet and sour pork, cheese ravioli and halushki while listening to Slovenian music, this is a definite plus.

Lifelong residents of the Mon-Yough area know that the Village represents a great time and a chance to get in touch with your ethnic roots. But for those unfortunate Almanac visitors who didn't grow up within in the McKeesport area, here's an insider's guide to International Village, telling you the kinds of things that you don't get in the free souvenir program.

. . .

International Village is held at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport's Renziehausen Park for three days every August.

Contrary to the belief of many Pittsburghers, you can reach McKeesport quickly and easily, and we do have paved roads in the Mon Valley. Renzie Park is particularly easy to get to --- from Westmoreland County, take Route 30 west to Route 48 south. Take Route 48 south to Route 148 north. Follow Route 148 north about three blocks to Eden Park Boulevard.

From Pittsburgh, you may take the Parkway East to Forest Hills, then take Route 30 east to East McKeesport. Turn right onto Route 148 south and follow Route 148 to Hartman Street, then turn left.

Unlike what you may have seen reported on the Pittsburgh TV news, we are largely friendly and harmless, and we do have such conveniences as electricity, telephones and indoor toilets. We don't have a Starbucks yet, but we're hopeful. (That trend is dead now, anyway, which means we'll get one any minute.)

. . .

Parking is at a premium during International Village. Some of the local churches offer paid parking in their lots, but any free parking near Stephen Barry Field tends to fill up quickly.

Luckily, Renzie Park is a large, regional park, so there are spaces available, but they're not necessarily adjacent to Stephen Barry Field. If you can walk, simply plan to wear comfortable shoes, and give yourself plenty of time. You will enjoy the stroll. Renzie is lovely on a summer evening.

If you are elderly or disabled, I hope you can find a space close to the entrances.

But if you're able-bodied, and you insist on circling the parking lots near the tennis courts endlessly for hours hoping that a space opens up, I reserve the right to steal your hubcaps.

. . .

In a related matter, have some common courtesy --- for crying out loud, don't park on the end of the aisle and block other people in. Your legs aren't broken. But maybe they should be. At the very least, someone should steal your hubcaps.

Also, there is no valet parking at International Village. So if you give your car keys to someone, I sure hope you have a bus schedule handy.

. . .

Other Activities: McKeesport Heritage Center, located on Arboretum Drive, will have special extended hours during International Village. If you haven't purchased a copy of Images of America: McKeesport, this is an ideal time to do so.

The Heritage Center also has copies of a recent documentary on the life of pioneer aviator Helen Richey and other memorabilia on sale, as well as exhibits documenting life around the Mon-Yough area and McKeesport's first school house. It's well worth a visit, and I say that not just because I'm on the board of directors.

Also, the Renzie Park Arboretum, which is surprisingly also located on Arboretum Drive, is open until sunset. It's one of only about 100 nationally recognized rose gardens in the United States, so take a break from the Village and stop to smell the roses. (Rimshot.)

. . .

Do: Wear your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," "Treat Me, I'm Dutch," "Proud to Be Italian," etc., T-shirt.

Don't: Tell Polish jokes, or say something like, "Wow! Look at all the (insert ethnic group name here)!" And speaking in an exaggerated, "Mamma-mia! That's-a speecy-spicy meatsaballa!" accent around the Italian booth is considered bad form.

. . .

If you are over the age of 10, and are eating hot dogs at the "American" booth, you should be ashamed of yourself. You probably think burritos heated in the microwave at Uni-Mart are "authentic Mexican cuisine."

. . .

The food prices at the Village are set by the individual groups doing the vending. You may find $5 for a kolbassi sandwich too much to pay, and decide to eat somewhere else. That is your prerogative.

But for some of the groups exhibiting at International Village, this is the one big fundraising event they have each year. They will no doubt invest the profits from your $5 kolbassi sandwich into silly, frivolous extras like the water bill, the gas bill, the light bill, and educational and cultural programs.

Choose instead to stop for a 99-cent "extra value" cheeseburger on the way home, and contemplate all of the ethnic and social programs the Wendy's Corporation has funded in your community over the last year. I hope the mustard and pickles turn to ashes in your mouth, you cheapskate.

Or, buy something at the Village to eat. It's your choice. There's no pressure.

. . .

Admission: There is a small admission charge to enter International Village. For a long time, it was 50 cents, and before that, it was free.

There are still people who think it should be free, and mark the city's "decline" to the year that they started charging people four bits to walk around International Village. Many of these people are also still upset that CBS cancelled "Ed Sullivan."

If you're one of the people, I'm wondering how you made it onto the Web to read the Almanac, so please write to us from the library or wherever you've been sponging free Internet access.

A postcard to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134 is acceptable. Feel free to steam a stamp off of a Christmas card, or just send Bob Cratchit over to deliver it.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: General Nonsense | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 11, 2010

Flyover Ramp Clears Another Hurdle


The planned flyover ramp into the RIDC Industrial Park is one step closer to existence.

Allegheny County officials have reached a preliminary agreement with the owners of the Eat'n Park on Lysle Boulevard to take part of the restaurant's parking lot.

Terms are not yet public, but county officials expect to have more information with in a week, says Colleen Elms, spokeswoman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

. . .

City officials have offered to vacate part of an alley next to the restaurant, and trade the property to Eat'n Park, in exchange for the right-of-way through the parking lot. Elms could not verify whether that deal, was, in fact, going forward.

However, no agreement has yet been finalized with the neighboring Rite-Aid pharmacy, Elms says. That property is owned by a Hermitage, Tenn., investor.

The long-promised flyover ramp has been a goal of both RIDC and city officials ever since the industrial park was created on the former U.S. Steel National Works site two decades ago. Access to the site is limited to railroad crossings at Center and Locust streets, which has discouraged some potential tenants.

. . .

The center's largest tenant, a call center operated by Dish Network, closed in March, leaving 800 people without work.

City officials have met with three potential tenants, Mayor Jim Brewster says. One of the tenants was interested in the former Dish Network building, while another wanted the unfinished space adjacent to that structure.

Each of the tenants would bring several hundred employees, he says, but the lack of unhampered vehicle access is an obstacle to selling or renting property on the site.

Allegheny County Council has opened bids on construction of the ramp, ranging from $5.7 million to $8 million, but those bids are subject to change, Elms says, and the final cost won't be known until the construction contract is awarded by the county's public works department. Earlier estimates quoting a "$14 million" price tag for construction of the ramp are erroneous, she says.

(Editor's Note: The $14 million figure has been quoted by various news outlets, including the Almanac, and appears to have come from a 2008 Allegheny County press release.)

. . .

The project is being funded in part through a $6 million grant from the federal "stimulus" package for infrastructure improvements.

No groundbreaking has been scheduled, Elms says, because construction cannot begin until the county officially takes possession of the property.

The flyover ramp will cross the CSX Railroad tracks and allow traffic to enter the industrial park directly from the foot of Coursin Street.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 10:59 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: News | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 10, 2010

A Nation of McKeesports


When you travel around the Northeast, you learn quickly that McKeesport is hardly some exceptional case. There are McKeesports all over the place --- small cities whose industrial bases have vanished, with nothing to replace them.

We just returned from a few days at the Lake Erie shore in northwestern Ohio. In Sandusky, best known as the home of the Cedar Point amusement park, manufacturers small and large once cranked out plastic panels, bearings, seats and other components for Detroit's "Big 3," as well as replacement aftermarket auto parts.

As you might expect, the recent bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors hit those plants hard. If that wasn't bad enough, they're also being squeezed out of the market by low-cost, low-wage Chinese plants. The remaining factories in Sandusky are hanging on by their fingernails, according to the Sandusky Register.

Even if they survive, those plants are relatively small, employing between 300 and 700 workers. I thought tourism would have filled the gap in Sandusky --- besides Cedar Point, there are biking and hiking trails along the waterfront, and lakeshore property invariably brings development, right?

. . .

Not really. On the roads leading to Cedar Point, there's a lot of retail business, but the Sandusky waterfront also has a lot of empty, decaying old buildings.

In short, Sandusky pretty much looks like McKeesport --- some really nice neighborhoods and some really, really rough ones, with a lot of vacant or underused commercial property. More than 15 percent of Sandusky residents are below the poverty line.

Sandusky is located in Erie County, whose biggest employers these days include Cedar Point, the Kalahari waterpark resort, and several non-profits and government agencies.

In nearby Port Clinton, where ferryboats take vacationers out to explore Lake Erie's islands at $18 per person (one way!), the business district has some wonderful stores and restaurants, but it also looks a little run-down and tired.

There are plenty of vacant storefronts there, too. People who aren't working don't buy many souvenirs and don't take many $18 ferry rides.

. . .

None of this is meant to beat up on Port Clinton (where we had a really wonderful time), Sandusky or any other city.

It is meant to question some of the negativity constantly leveled against McKeesport, Duquesne and other cities, much of it by former residents. The letters-to-the-editor in the Daily News and some of the comments on the otherwise-wonderful "McKeesport Memories" Facebook page can sometimes be as depressing as a month of rain and as bitter as a vinegar bath.

True, some of the problems in McKeesport and Duquesne (and Pittsburgh and Altoona) were undoubtedly failures of those cities' leadership. But it's hard to see what would have produced a different outcome, and Luke Ravenstahl isn't responsible for Sandusky's 15 percent poverty rate any more than Jim Brewster is for vacant stores in Port Clinton's business district.

When the jobs aren't there, people aren't there, the tax revenues aren't there, and stores aren't there, and all the finger-pointing and nasty Internet comments in the world won't change that.

. . .

This is all meant to make a fairly depressing, but obvious point --- the biggest thing hurting America's cities isn't the Community Reinvestment Act, or ACORN, or teachers' unions, or Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, or estate taxes, or gay marriage or gun control or whatever whipping-boy the far-right-wing is flogging today on Fox News and Jim Quinn's radio show.

The biggest thing hurting America's cities --- including McKeesport --- is a lack of good-paying jobs.

During the Reagan years, we were told that unionized workers were lazy and needed to become more productive. Well, in Seymour, Ind., which is about the same size as McKeesport, there's an ironing board factory. It's the last one in the United States.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, the plant has squeezed wages as far down as they can go and has speeded up production to crank out an ironing board every five seconds. And it's not unionized. They still can't compete with Chinese manufacturers, who dump ironing boards onto the American market below cost.

. . .

The Reagan administration also told us that as the manufacturing sector declined, service-industry jobs would replace them. Maybe they replaced them, but they never supplanted them.

I've heard people complain about the pace of redevelopment at the old U.S. Steel National Works, which is administered by the non-profit, county-run Regional Industrial Development Corp. Why hasn't the site been redeveloped like the Waterfront shopping complex in Homestead?

That's a good question. I ask --- would it really make a difference? Before the U.S. Steel Homestead Works closed in 1986, workers averaged $14 an hour --- almost $32 per hour in 2010 dollars. Right now, workers at the Barnes & Noble in Homestead --- to name just one of the retail businesses in the Waterfront --- average $8 to $10 per hour.

It's hard to see the Waterfront as a replacement for industrial jobs.

. . .

In Sandusky, to take another example, the Kalahari waterpark is hiring, but according to its website it's looking for room attendants, receptionists, cocktail servers and concession-stand cooks. I suspect none of those jobs pay a third of what a seat assembler makes at the old Ford plant on Tiffin Avenue.

I also see that a guest room at Kalahari's hotel goes for about $300 per night. At that rate, I suspect few of Kalahari's employees could afford to stay there.

Yet still we get the Reagan mantra --- "cut taxes, cut government, cut spending, and jobs will follow." The jobs followed, all right --- they followed other jobs going overseas. And as Paul Krugman pointed out this week in the New York Times, cities across the United States have already cut taxes, cut government and cut spending to the bone.

. . .

But now they've cut most of the fat, and they're cutting the bones, too: Local governments all over the U.S. are turning out streetlights, shortening school years and actually unpaving streets to save money.

"And what about the economy's future?" asks Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. "Everything we know about economic growth says that a well-educated population and high-quality infrastructure are crucial. Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we're going backward."

Krugman points out that simply raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans would provide the revenue needed to put the lights back on, pave streets and reopen schools.

But "three decades of anti-government rhetoric," Krugman says, makes any such tax increase monstrously difficult to pass. He concludes that "America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."

. . .

Increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans would help maintain basic services, but higher taxes and more government spending are a stop-gap, not a cure. A sweeping reform of America's trade policies to protect jobs from unfair competition is needed.

Yet the same people peddling the "no taxes, no government line" for the past 30 years --- represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others --- have also peddled a "free trade above all" philosophy that makes tariffs as unpalatable as taxes.

Take that Indiana ironing board factory, for instance. As the Post notes, Wal-Mart is screaming bloody murder to get the U.S. to lift tariffs on Chinese ironing boards. When that happens, the Seymour factory will probably close, too.

. . .

In that same Washington Post story, an economist from something called the "Peterson Institute" says the 200 ironing board workers can just find other jobs. Sure they can --- in the service industry, making half what they now make.

And The Peterson Institute turns out to have been founded by Peter G. Peterson, a former Nixon Administration official and Wall Street investment banker who's ranked among Forbes Magazine's 400 wealthiest Americans.

In other words, Peter G. Peterson pushed the anti-tax rhetoric so that he could benefit from it, and he also benefited from sending American jobs someplace else. Now he's using his wealth to fund a tax-exempt foundation whose purpose is to explain why it's a good idea to make the Peter G. Petersons of the world even richer!

I'm no socialist, but when you look at those kinds of connections, it's hard not to feel like the game is rigged against the working class.

. . .

As cities like McKeesport or Sandusky decline, those able to move away go to newer, shinier communities. But unless tax and tariff policies change, and unless we build back our manufacturing base and our middle class, more and more cities will look like McKeesport.

As Paul Krugman points out, it isn't just older cities any more --- newer suburban communities are feeling the same pressures.

Somebody tell me --- when all of the nation's communities finally look like McKeesport, to where will we move?

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 10:37 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Commentary/Editorial | six comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 08, 2010

Sunday Snark

(Commentary/Editorial, Politics)

According to the large ad in Friday's Daily News, the paper's parent organization, Trib Total Media, is giving away a trip to see Glenn Beck's tea party rally on Aug. 28 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In case you haven't heard, on the 47th anniversary of the day that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, Glenn Beck, the former "morning zoo" disc jockey, shameless huckster and serial prevaricator, is going to plant his feet in the same spot and spew more of his fact-free nonsense.

(In fairness, although the rally has the support of many members of various "tea party" organizations, it isn't specifically for any of them. Beck's instead labeled it a rally to "Restore America's Honor." Of course, this is the same Glenn Beck who once called a woman live, on the radio, to mock her for having a miscarriage, so I'm not sure what he knows about "honor.")

. . .

Syndicated columnist Bill Press, a liberal, calls the Aug. 28 rally "outrageous," while Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, says it's a blatant attempt to "hijack" King's legacy for commercial purposes.

If there's any justice in the world, a stray thunderstorm will pass over the Lincoln Memorial while Beck speaks so that God can throw down lightning bolts. But I digress.

"Grand prize" in Trib Total Media's contest is breakfast with Beck and Sarah Palin, the half-term governor of a state with only about half the population of Allegheny County.

I assume that second prize is two breakfasts with Glenn and Sarah, third prize is three breakfasts, fourth prize is four breakfasts, etc.

. . .

Maybe my real question is: Why are serious news organizations --- which exist to inform and educate, something which the Daily News and Tribune-Review generally do well --- associating themselves with what amounts to a carnival of ignorance?

Don't take my word for it. Read what U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina, had to say this week.

Inglis is one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives (he has a 93 percent lifetime approval rating from the American Conservative Union) but recently lost his bid for re-election to a Tea Party-backed candidate:

Now he's freely recounting his frustrating interactions with tea party types, while noting that Republican leaders are pushing rhetoric tainted with racism, that conservative activists are dabbling in anti-Semitic conspiracy theory nonsense, and that Sarah Palin celebrates ignorance...

Inglis lists the examples: falsely claiming Obama's health care overhaul included "death panels," raising questions about Obama's birthplace, calling the president a socialist, and maintaining that the Community Reinvestment Act was a major factor of the financial meltdown.

"CRA," Inglis says, "has been around for decades. How could it suddenly create this problem? You see how that has other things worked into it?" Racism? "Yes," Inglis says ...

What about Sarah Palin? Inglis pauses for a moment: "I think that there are people who seem to think that ignorance is strength." And he says of her: "If I choose to remain ignorant and uninformed and encourage people to follow me while I celebrate my lack of information," that's not responsible.

. . .

And what does Inglis think of Beck, the star of the upcoming Aug. 28 travesty? Inglis calls him a "demagogue," which is someone who tries to gain power by appealing to people's prejudices, irrational beliefs and fears.

I like H.L. Mencken's definition of a demagogue. Mencken said a demagogue is someone "who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."

Some people will read this and say, "Well, you're a liberal." And I am. (As Rachel Maddow recently pointed out, a "liberal" these days is someone who agrees with the Republican Party's platform ... from the Eisenhower administration.)

. . .

But Inglis is no liberal, and objecting to Glenn Beck and this tea party nonsense isn't about being a "liberal" or a "conservative." It's about telling the truth versus shoveling pure, 100 percent B.S. that reinforces prejudice, ignorance and hatred.

Inglis, for instance, says his biggest objection to the "tea parties" and Glenn Beck stems from his Christian faith --- specifically, he can't rationalize breaking the Ninth Commandment to score cheap political points.

News organizations, whether print, broadcast or Internet, aren't supposed to bear false witness either, and they certainly aren't supposed to be merrily and blissfully associating themselves with people who do.

. . .

If anything, reporters and news organizations are supposed to expose as frauds those people --- like Beck --- who appeal to prejudices and irrational fears.

Those are such obvious points I feel like an idiot even making them, but apparently, they need to be said.

As for me, I think I'm going to enter the contest. I could stand to lose a few pounds, and attending that rally would put me off my feed for several days at least.

. . .

Update: And the hits just keep on coming!

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 3:32 pm by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Commentary/Editorial, Politics | three comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 06, 2010

To Do This Weekend


'Rally' Tomorrow at Renzie: Mon-Yough communities will hold a daylong series of events highlighting violence and drug abuse prevention, beginning with a five-kilometer "walk, bike or run" event from Renziehausen Park to the Palisades, Downtown.

The "Walk, Run and Ride Against Drugs, Violence and Abuse Among Our Youth" begins at Renzie at 9 a.m.

The annual "Rally in the Valley," sponsored by the Mon-Valley Concerned Citizens Committee, begins that afternoon at 1 p.m. in Renzie. Events include entertainment, motivational speakers and interdenominational worship services.

. . .

Marina Concert Series: The summer concert series at the McKees Point Marina continues tomorrow with "Six on the Beach." Billing themselves as "the ultimate dance band," Six on the Beach plays music from tropical locations, including Caribbean tunes, reggae and salsa numbers, and Jimmy Buffett songs.

The band is comprised of members of Dr. Zoot and the Suits. The free concert begins at 8 p.m.

McKees Point Marina is located at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Water Street, Downtown.

. . .

Renzie Concert Sunday: The Real Deal Band plays at the Lions Bandshell at Renziehausen Park at 7 p.m. Sunday. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair.

The bandshell is located at the corner of Eden Park Boulevard and Tulip Drive. Renzie summer concerts are free and sponsored by the City of McKeesport and the McKeesport Lions Club. Members of the Lions Club also will be collecting used pairs of eyeglasses, and refreshments will be available.

. . .

But Not Least: Allegheny County property tax assessors are conducting field reviews in the city, officials said.

The assessors have photo identification cards and wear green safety vests clearly labeled "Property Assessments." Any resident concerned should call the county's Office of Property Assessments at (412) 350-4600.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 12:00 am by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: Events | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 04, 2010

Briefly Noted: Grandview Task Force Hosts Night Out Event


Reprinted with permission from The Grandview Grapevine:

The Grandview Task Force sponsored its first-ever Kids Festival/National Night Out event Tuesday night in the Beulah Park United Methodist Church parking lot and on Grover Street.

The event, completely free for area kids 16 years of age and younger, was funded entirely by fundraising efforts of task force members and donations from generous businesses and individuals.

Task force-sponsored activities included seven carnival games including a ping-pong ball bounce, a football toss, and a fish pond, 4 craft tables, free hotdogs, chips, drinks, cotton candy, sno-cones, popcorn and peaches, and the ever-popular big inflatable bounce.

The evening wrapped up with a police-escorted neighborhood walk illuminated by hundreds of glow-sticks and glow-necklaces distributed free to participants. Residents were encouraged to turn their porch lights on and come out of their homes to meet their neighbors.

Other organizations provided:
  • A very informative and exciting K9 demonstration by city police Sgt. Tim Bliss with Katie and Diesel

  • Face painting by the McKeesport Tiger Cheerleaders, who also helped run games

  • Adoptable animals from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society (a cute marmalade tabby cat was adopted at our event!)

  • Crafting ducks and fish from paper plates by the Carnegie Library of McKeesport

  • Trivia bean bag toss game by Tobacco Free Allegheny

  • The pumper truck from the McKeesport Fire Department

  • Bicycle safety checks by M&C Cyclery

  • Skateboarding demo by PA Cheap Skates

Editor's Note: In case you missed it, KDKA-TV spotlighted the Grandview event on its 11 p.m. news Tuesday. Thanks to the Grandview Task Force for permission to reprint this story.

. . .

Bonedog Videos from Renzie: Artists from Duquesne-based Bonedog Records did a free concert at the bandshell at Renziehausen Park on July 25.

Spokesman Tim Roolf says videos are now available online of performances by Gus Collins and Robert Peckman.

Peckman's new CD is called "Right Where I Wanna Be," while Collins' new CD is called "Soul Social." Both can be ordered from or from Bonedog's website.

Bonedog Records is the releasing arm of the Mojo Boneyard studio, located on Sixth Street, Downtown.

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 10:03 pm by Contributed Reports
Filed Under: News | three comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 02, 2010

Vacation Today

(General Nonsense)

The Almanac is taking a brief rest. Port Authority buses will operate on a normal schedule (that is, 15 minutes behind) and garbage collection will continue as usual (which, in my borough, means they'll leave the cans out in the street where they get run over).

Until we return, why not check out some of the fine, fine offerings on our blogroll? May I suggest:

  • Balloon Juice (politics with a Pittsburgh/West Virginia flavor)

  • Nancy Nall (culture, politics and other stuff from Detroit)

  • Old Mon Music (regular commentary on the Mon Valley sound of blues, rock and jazz)

Search Tube City Online

Custom Search
XML: RSS Feed XML: Atom Feed
Posted at 10:37 am by Jason Togyer
Filed Under: General Nonsense | | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites


Next Archive

Previous Archive